OPINION: Passive nation

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - An ad agency recently briefed its clients that the Filipino Generation Z — the post-millennials born after 1996 — is the most obedient generation. 

An ad agency recently briefed its clients that the Filipino Generation Z — the post-millennials born after 1996 — is the most obedient generation. This came to mind the other day when a hashtag started trending on Twitter: #WalangMayor (no mayor). College students were apparently up in arms because grade school and high school classes had been called off, but no suspension was forthcoming for college students from the mayor of Manila. Other mayors received their share of flak, too.

Back in February, the Far Eastern University’s Public Policy Center released a study (dating to 2015) in which it described Generation Z as not having definite stances on pressing issues of the day, ranging from extrajudicial killings to the death penalty revival and maritime disputes with China. While they generally rely on the internet for news, they take reports at face value, and refrain from discussing current events or expressing their opinions. Other studies of this generation focus more on their employment preferences (tech is a factor in deciding who they want to work for, but in terms of advertising they look for quirky humor rather than being impressed with new formats).

But here was a case where Generation Z wasn’t shy about expressing its opinion: the social-media savvy administration that was swept into Manila City Hall found itself skewered in the same spaces it had previously mastered. One particularly popular post (a rant) went along these lines: “We college students are the last to be considered, even though we’re always tired, sleep-deprived, and stressed from studying; our immune systems are often weak and yet we’re expected to get drenched and wade through floods — what do you think we are, bangus? P.S. Senior High School students are college as well when you think of it, if there wasn’t a K-12 Curriculum; so what’s the difference between senior high school students and us when it comes to class suspensions? If ever there was such a thing as ‘retiring high school students’ being the term for college students today, would there be a change in how you treat us?”

Now, that’s a ringing endorsement for the retention of logic in the college curriculum, you might say. And you might have a point. I wasn’t alone in wondering, though, about what the backlash revealed about that generation (and only because its views are on full online display — who knows if our contemporaries actually thought like this, too, back in the day). And that is: What’s missing is a sense of autonomy on the part of the worried, affected and, as a result, disaffected.

One teacher active on Twitter decided to give whichever Generation Z-er who might encounter her advice online some guidance: Don’t leave your health and well-being entirely up to the authorities. Decide for yourself what risks are involved in going to school, and act accordingly. You can always explain your absence afterwards, but the important thing is you took care of yourself.

I’ve seen this advice repeated in various forms time and again whenever the efficiency — or lack of it — of the authorities, whether national or local, come into question during times of bad weather. Parents can make the judgment call, too; and if you’re in college, you’re going to have to make choices about yourself in the way all adults do.

Which is not to say there won’t be unreasonable school administrators and teachers, just as there are unreasonable employers. Self-preservation, however, is as basic a right as any. It does underscore the assertion of the advertising agency that the generation now in school is an exceptionally obedient one. This is wonderful news for officialdom of all kinds, whether in the government, in schools or in the companies that will be hiring those currently in school.

It’s also a cautionary tale for those who grew up and adopted the thinking of a previous generation, which prized independence and questioning authority. There is now, literally, a generation gap, one that suddenly sets apart the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y from Generation Z.

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